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Exposition of Brutality
Riddled with missteps and disappointments, the Portland Police Department’s lackluster performance throughout Saturday’s protest in solidarity with Ferguson displayed not only laziness and unprofessionalism, but a kind of ill will towards the masses reflected also in their statement of the night’s events.
Their entire post-event statement reeked of misinformation and condescending euphemisms, but one illustrative quotation gleaned by the major daily newspaper, The Oregonian, will suffice as an example: “Officers ordered the crowd to move but they instead approached officers, who used two ‘flash bangs’ (no projectiles) to stun the senses, then officers performed a deliberate approach to the crowd, which turned and ran away.” Coming about halfway through the protest, this incident was predicated by a protester mounting a police Jeep to varying cheers and jeers of a divided crowd, before the van’s driver threw the vehicle in reverse, nearly toppling its quixotic passenger. Angered by the disregard for a protester’s life, the crowd formed a line to face the police, who began licking their chops at the prospect of using their long, sleek nightsticks to trounce an unarmed and diverse gathering. The police moved back several paces, protesters moved forward to maintain the same distance, and police threw concussion grenades into the crowd.
The PPD riot squad followed the fireworks with a direct and full charge against the protest, which was, as usual, accompanied by a guttural, storm-trooper cry that resonates in one’s bowels and makes one feel like vomiting. Many fleeing from the grenade’s impact and fulguration panicked at the charge, tumbled over one another and created a scene not unlike a stampede. Some may not have anticipated such bellicosity from the Portland Police, who only earlier that morning became the subject of a nationally-disseminated social media meme of an officer hugging a 12-year-old African American child who appeared old beyond his years—particularly not at a voyage christened by Reverend Jessie Jackson’s peaceable rhetoric. But the same officer pictured hugging a child was seen later that evening ramming protesters with a police motorcycle, and Reverend Jackson’s words seemed put to the test in the haze of flares and grenades as the police charged the crowd.
Those not fleeing immediately were clubbed mercilessly to the streets and pushed onto the sidewalks by the nightsticks of the black-clad riot squad. According to several reports, police fired beanbag rounds from their shotguns, striking two demonstrators. In fact, the tactical purpose of the concussion grenades appeared to be the concealment of the sound of gunfire from onlookers. One protester ended the night’s violence in the hospital, while others remain bruised from the bludgeons and instruments of repression.
While the police statement appears to chortle disrespectfully at the protesters who “turned and ran away,” it neglected to add options B and C: be beaten to the ground by nightstick, or hospitalized by beanbag rounds propelled by the force of a shotgun. The police would not appear to have expected protestors to sit down and be beaten unconscious with Gandhian poise, given that the PPD excused their orgy of violence by stating, “[o]n a few occasions, some protesters have thrown bottles at police officers and have been very confrontational.” What occasions and when? In their callus misdirection, the officers neglected to mention that on the occasion of this specific march, protesters did not throw bottles. Issuing from such a condescending statement, the notion that protestors behave confrontationally en masse and in general only serves to further expose the manner with which protestors are belittled, scorned, and brutalized by police.
Perhaps the PPD’s crude and smug statement merely exposes their disappointment at failing to catch and abuse as many protesters as they might have liked. Those who have marched in Portland have become veterans of such abuse, and have learned that the police will show as little mercy as the mainstream media. The battered bodies of protestors will not even make the evening news, but a scratch on a police car may make headlines. With all the odds against them, the protesters rallied behind the leadership of one woman of color in particular, unimposing in stature, but of stentorian disposition, who summoned the courage to turn her back to the police, and guide a critical mass of protesters out of the melee. Far from the cowardice indicated by the police, this group organized by Don’t Shoot Portland and its mostly-POC leaders showed all the signs of spontaneous bravery in the line of fire.
Police and Propaganda
After continuing the march to the Justice Center, the protest held a “die-in” in commemoration of the Black and Brown lives taken by police—including Aaron Campbell, who was shot in the back by officer Ron Frashour in 2010, leading to the suspension of three officers and the firing of Frashour (who was later reinstated with two years of full back-pay). It was there, as a group of some two hundred protesters lay in the intersection of 2nd and Maine in front of the Justice Center in downtown Portland, exhausted by four and a half hours of marching that included police beatings and arrests, that in the irony to top all ironies some 200 protesters were kettled in a mass arrest and deprived of our constitutional right to assembly as prisoners looked on and from their small windows high in the towers of the Justice Center and flicked their lights in solidarity.
In their kettling, police even arrested one journalist for the weekly magazine, The Portland Mercury, raising questions about freedom of the press. The group’s “arrest” came without warning from the police, in spite of their statement to the contrary. After announcing everyone’s arrest through the loudspeakers of their notorious ice cream truck of law enforcement, however, the police let everyone go—including the Mercury journalist. Well, nearly everybody. They did jail a handful of people, and their selection exposes everything you need to know about the state of racism and police repression in Portland.
Hart Noecker, a local muckraking journalist, helped to out three PPD officers for changing their profile pictures on Facebook to “I am Darren Wilson” last week, and was earnestly repaid for his deed by the PPD, who picked him out of the crowd and jailed him in a clear case of targeted police repression of the press. Noecker’s booking officer just happened to be Rich Storm, one of the three police officers who was outed and forced to remove the image of the police badge with “I am Darren Wilson” written over it backed by a blue line. Though he was banned from all Ferguson-related protests in Portland after posting solidarity with Darren Wilson, whose slaying of Mike Brown sparked the Ferguson uprising, Storm “was filling a needed support role,” according to Sgt. Pete Simpson, and was therefore granted overtime to serve as a “custodian officer.”
Sending a banned police officer to a protest to drive and book the journalist who outed them is shockingly unethical, but suits the PPD’s profile, which is relatively well embodied in Storm’s record. Storm’s beating of Fausto Brambila-Naranjo made the short list on a 2011 Department of Justice expose on the PPD’s persistent usage of excessive force in spite of diversity trainings, and his appearance in the East Precinct after midnight on a Saturday night as a booking officer is a stunning intimidation tactic exercised by the PPD in their counterinsurgency war against protestors, social movements, and people of color. Of the other six whose names have been released after being arrested and jailed, half were people of color, putting the PPD’s systemic racism on display once again as they protect and serve the top one percent of the city’s 76 percent white population. All this in a city that controversially shelled out $56,000 to send the Mayor and Police Chief to a three-day diversity training earlier this year.
That the official story published in The Oregonian, which is owned and operated by the media conglomerate Advance Media out of New York City, consisted of a lengthy quotation from the PPD’s snarky statement is symptomatic of the public elision of brutality through the targeted arrest of journalists, and goes further to expose the mentality of gentrification pushing a growing underclass of poor and houseless people, especially people of color, into situations of despair, hunger, and systemic poverty. The police may as well have written the story themselves, as the major newspaper remains a mouthpiece for corporations using the police to sweep their externalities under the rug. From targeted arrests of journalists to disseminating false information, the police propaganda screen shields the processes of accumulation and exploitation with a thin blue line on which is typed, boldly in sans-serif font, “I am Darren Wilson.”
The order of the day is a disgrace to the constitution, although that document, itself, was written with such concomitant contradiction as to lay the fundamentally fractured basis for the crises of capitalism and racism intrinsic within Imperial systems. While Storm and the other two officers were forced to take their avatars identifying as Darren Wilson off Facebook by the beleaguered Police Chief Mike Reece, who is set to retire in January after taking the brunt of an incisive police audit earlier this year, their gesture was supported by 19 other police officers who clicked “like” on the “I am Darren Wilson” Facebook page—a reminder of the corruption, carelessness, and conceit that chokes the city from within. Who will be the next Mike Brown, the next Aaron Campbell? The next Darren Wilson, the next Ron Frashour? Will justice ever reach the towers of perfide Portlandia?
Alexander Reid Ross is a contributing moderator of the Earth First! Newswire and works for Bark. He is the editor of Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab (AK Press 2014) and a contributor to Life During Wartime (AK Press 2013). This article is also being published at earthfirstjournal.org/newswire.